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Opinion: Adams Morgan Can Work With Developer on Plaza

by Borderstan Contributor March 9, 2016 at 11:30 am 17 Comments

SunTrust plaza (Photo via Wikimedia/AgnosticPreachersKid)

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by Billy Simpson

I was quite disappointed by the way that you have framed your poll on Borderstan concerning the proposed development at the SunTrust site in Adams Morgan. It perpetuates the false dichotomy that a community must either accept exactly what a developer proposes, or get nothing. For those who would take the time to familiarize themselves with the details of the site, it’s clear that there are several potential avenues for PN Hoffman to further its goals, while still preserving meaningful portions of the plaza for community use. And obviously, no one (to my knowledge) is arguing for preserving the plaza in its current condition. It would be renovated and beautified as part of any development.

ANC 1C has a proven record of working constructively with developers, respecting their rights, while also seeking the best for the community. Recent example include the Line DC Hotel, Il Palazzo, Ontario 17, 1711 Florida Avenue, the Adamo and 2337 Champlain Street (the list goes on). There will obviously be disagreement in any given case as to whether the optimal results were achieved, but the practical point remains: We all fare better, communities and developers alike, when we can get beyond a take-it-or-leave-it, all-or-nothing mentality.

Simpson is a member and former chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1C, which represents Adams Morgan. His commentary is not an official statement of the ANC.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Borderstan.

Photo via Wikimedia/AgnosticPreachersKid

  • meh

    As far as I can tell, Mr. Simpson is the one with the all-or-nothing attitude, since he proclaimed that not maintaining a plaza was unacceptable. Many neighborhood residents (including me) seem to believe that having the building use the full footprint would be better for the neighborhood than maintaining a plaza – no matter how “renovated and beautified” it is.

    I believe the community would be better served if the ANC focused on improving the overall design of the proposed building, rather than trying to fight for a plaza. Architectural callbacks to the Knickerbocker Theater, for instance, would be a great way to recall the history of the lot.

    • Because remembering a tragedy over 100 years ago is more important than creating community spaces. Ugh.

      • meh

        *false dichotomy alert*

        • Interesting analysis. Although it has not a thing to do with dichotomies in any way. You are saying “make it pretty so we remember the past… ” Um OK.

          • nevermindtheend

            No, I never said that. Since so many people are complaining that the proposed building ruins the historic nature of Adams Morgan, it is logical to design the building in such a way that it calls back the original building on that site.

            You, however, actually said that creating community spaces and referencing history are mutually exclusive. That is patently ridiculous.

  • A

    Agree completely with meh. The plaza is an eyesore, covered in filth (chicken bones, pizza, bread, pigeon poo) and pretty useless. A real inhabited building with real residents will improve the entire community–restaurants, cleanliness, etc.

    • Popeye

      Does setting aside a small part of the footprint for the farmers market and other public uses not “serve the community”?

      • A

        There are a plethora of options to move the farmer’s market. As is, less people are served by a vacant space used sporadically for a farmer’s market that 100 people shop at… while, retail space + increased residents (and their tax and spending dollars) will serve far more. Shoot close down a road for the farmer’s market if you want. I would trade the farmer’s market for increased tax revenues and 2 new restaurants any day….and it’s not even close.

        • guenna77

          it’s easy to exaggerate that there isn’t anyone or anything worthwhile using the plaza now, but it’s just not true. way more than 100 people use the farmers market on weekends, and plenty of people who aren’t vagrants enjoy open space. just because you aren’t one of them doesn’t make it useless. as for pigeon poo or pizza crusts or chicken bones (not that i’ve seen any bones myself…) if its there now, it’ll be on any sidewalk regardless of what you do to the space. none of those are issues solved by eliminating the open space. we can still have restaurants (not that they *need* that space – there are several empty storefronts on 18th and along Columbia with liquor licenses) and the farmers market too.

          • A

            16,000 people live in Adams Morgan. How many do you think use that plaza? It’s a concrete waste of space. There’s no grass. It’s used for 3 things: a farmer’s market, people waiting for the bus and kids skateboarding. It’s gross and disgusting.

            We dont need the space for a restaurant, we need the residents. There need to be more people living in adams morgan. More people who are willing to go out and spend money.

            There are literally two vast open spaces that actually have grass 4-5 blocks from this spot. What does this add? Why would you hangout in this “plaza” instead of kalorama park or walter pierce?

            A concrete 20×20 area used infrequently, often covered in trash and vommit isnt something that is worth holding up an actual modern building going in. And, if you add residential space, i’d imagine the sidewalks would be cleared quicker of garbage…but, yeah, that farmer’s market sure is sweet. LOLz

          • guenna77

            why does it need grass to be useful? i see plenty of people there who aren’t waiting for the bus or skateboarding. if you don’t like it, whatever, but that doesn’t make it gross and disgusting. and you’re the one who mentioned restaurants. i’m fine with an apartment building. i also want the plaza. i’m sure you’ll use it a lot after the development “lolz”. the plaza adds plenty, apparently for people other than you. i guess it’s hard to think outside that box.

  • guenna77

    I believe the community is well-served with the farmers market and open spaces, and it would be best for everyone to keep them as part of a redesign. Mr. Simpson has certainly not displayed an all or nothing attitude- clearly there is room for everything, which is what he is saying.

  • Michael Messmer

    I would also agree with meh. In the five years I’ve lived in the neighborhood, I’ve not seen that concrete-and-brick plaza used for anything other than the weekend farmers’ market and for street festivals. As 18th Street is usually closed off to set up a stage for entertainment or whatnot, and there are other nearby spaces for the farmers’ market, I fail to grasp the sanctity of this plaza. If it had been a small urban park, or even a beloved, heavily-used architectural gem of 1978, then I would understand the uproar. Last time I checked, it’s also private property. I’m not a fan of the current PN Hoffman design (which I find unremarkable), but I’d rather have people living on the site, contributing to the community as residents and customers at local businesses, than a space that most people just walk by when the farmers’ market is not there. A design that features residential and business spaces that also in some way recognizes the 98 people who died there in 1922 (which the current bank and plaza fail to do), as well as the rich cultural history of Adams Morgan, would be much better for the neighborhood. I personally would prefer something that uses the full footprint of the property, as the Knickerbocker/Ambassador did and as buildings in the neighborhood have done historically, but I understand and appreciate that my neighbors might hold other views. I just hope an option can be found to improve (by a number of factors) the current space.

  • Lanier resident

    I think a lot of us were just frustrated with his evident disregard for the rights of the private property owner. We can chat about what we’d like in that plaza until we are blue in the face, but the fact is, it’s not publicly owned. Community engagement on this topic should focus on the building design, in other words, feedback that arguably benefits both the developer and the community. When we start saying losing the plaza is “unacceptable”, I fear we lose our chance to work productively with the developer who owns the land.

    • guenna77

      they go hand in hand. the plaza is part of the building design. you appear to object to a different aspect of the overall design, but it’s no different than caring about whether the plaza stays, and neither one is a ‘disregard’ for private property rights.

  • Buddy

    There are a lot of comments below from “anti-plaza” types that seem to think they know what is best for the neighborhood. Let’s expand this argument to see the full breadth of situation. As an attendee of the ANC meetings, I’ve been aware that both plazas should be getting redeveloped as nicer, more functional outdoor space.
    See page 8 of the Adams Morgan Vision Framework
    The renditions in the Framework show the true potential of these spaces – why ruin these plans with living space? Having outdoor space, even for only a farmers market and/or festivals, is part of what makes this neighborhood livable. Are we all of a sudden anti-famers market now? Anti-Christmas tree lot? Anti-festival? Anti-music? Don’t be so quick to turn to money and taxes, and trying to fill every available space with revenue generating establishments, as if you’re going to somehow reap those benefits. I vote for keeping the space open and public. We need community space more than an increased inventory of living space, which btw, brings down the cost of your home.

    • nevermindtheend

      So is the city going to buy the SunTrust plaza? If not, on what grounds can the Adams Morgan Vision Framework prevent a property owner from using their own property?


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